Icon Painting In The Lemko Region

The following article, authored by Hryhoryj Lohvyn, first appeared in Carpatho-Rusyn American, Volume 10 #3, 1987
copyright © 1987 and is used here with permission

The following article on Lemko icons with photographs were sent specially to the Carpatho-Rusyn American by the Ukraina Society in Kiev, to whom we express our appreciation. - Editor

The extreme diversity of style in the pictorial arts of the Lemko Region makes an immediate impression on any expert in the field. A probable explanation for the artistic variety is the fact that the Lemkos lived in a mountainous border region where censorship on the part of religious authorities was weak. As a result, local painters enjoyed greater artistic latitude when carrying out the requests of various rural neighborhoods for icons. Despite the amazing diversity of Lemko icons, there are still certain common features inherent in all the works, such as a distinct emotional character, expressiveness, and a boundless love for bright decorative coloring. At the same time, one often finds a restrained simplicity as well as laconic and monumental compositions which recall the earlier monumental art current in the Rus' lands during the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. In particular, the presence of red and green backgrounds in Lemko art is a tribute to the traditions of wall and icon-painting popular in medieval Kievan Rus', most especially in the murals of St. Sophia's Cathedral and St. Cyril's Church in Kiev

When we turn to the Lemko Region these traits can be observed in the fifteenth-century murals of the Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God in the village of Weglowka / Vanivka (Krosno district). A monumental composition called The Prayer impresses the viewer with its contrasting characteristics of the three figures, which because of their rhythmically chosen positions on a field of light ochre recall the mosaic pattern contrasting with a gold background found in Kiev's St. Sophia's Cathedral. Still, the most refined creation in the church at Weglowka is the monumental icon of the Dormition of the Mother of God. The dynamic rhythm of the composition suggests an exquisite and noble character that is permeated with an almost music-like sound of color expressed through a marvelous combination of bright and subdued tones. The specific alternation of sinuous, bent, straight. vertical, and horizontal lines force the viewer to concentrate, despite himself, on every shade of color and on the outlines of various objects amid which were placed the participants of this most festive event - the birth of a child. Marked by the elevated moral atmosphere, this icon is a genuine hymn to maternity enshrouded in charms of poetry and beauty

The Prayer

1. The Prayer, detail from the iconostas, is in the church at Weglowka / Vanivka, fifteenth century.

Regardless of the workshop at which they were created, the icons of the Lemko Region are very important for scholarly research, since they provide material evidence of the advanced aesthetic level of the Lemkos. Lemko artistic preferences lay in light and fresh colors, among which red was dominant. And ever since earliest times, bright vermilion has been used by folk painters with a sense of decorative subtlety. This trait is already distinguishable, for example, in the icon depicting the Archangel Michael from the village of Daliowa/Dal'ova (Sanok district). The viewer finds himself virtually unable to take his eyes from the glowing red of the Archangel's cape.

The Dormition

2.. The Dormition, by the master painter Aleksej, detail from the Iconostasis in the church at Weglowka / Vanivka, . 1547.

The Archangel Michael

3. The Archangel Michael, from the Iconostasis in the church at Daliowa / Dal'ova, first half of the fifteenth century.

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